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Russian Socialists in the Struggle for Democracy

For the past few weeks, protests for fair elections in upcoming municipal polls have become weekly in Moscow and St. Petersburg as thousands have defied authorities to attend unsanctioned rallies. The police crackdown has been particularly harsh in Moscow. Protests on July 27 and August 3 resulted in over 2000 detentions. Images of police in riot gear wrestling citizens to the ground and beating peaceful protesters were reminiscent of the mass protests against election fraud in 2011-2012.

Members of the Russian Socialist Movement, a small Marxist, anti-Stalinist organization active in the Russian left, have been participants in local electoral campaigns and in the protests. Two RSM activists, Valeria Kovelishina and Ilya Budraitskis talk about the Russian Socialist Movement, their electoral work, the protests for democracy in Russia and what they might mean for the future.

Witnessing the Collapse of Communism

Roundtable discussion marking the 30th anniversary of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Participants include Timothy Garton Ash, Bridget Kendall, and Jens Reich.

The Evictors

Around Moscow, there’s a whole industry of so-called “black creditors” — microfinance institutions (or MFOs) that swindle and seize debtors’ homes. Ivan Golunov’s investigation for Meduza has discovered that almost 500 apartments have been seized from their owners over the past five years without so much as a court order. In fact, this scheme involves more than simply “squeezing” people from their homes. It is possibly part of a wider, international money-laundering system. Here’s Meduza special correspondent Ivan Golunov on the ins and outs of this industry.

Nashi Pranks Oppositionists

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On Tuesday, Nashi pulled off its best prank yet on the hapless Russian opposition.  In the words of Nezavisimaya gazeta, the stunt “will undoubtedly go down in the history of Russian youth politics as the greatest failure in the last ten years.”  Nashi is known for its acts of political trickery and harassment.  Over the last few years they’ve hounded British Ambassadors, distributed toilet paper editions of Kommersant, and sent Christmas presents to foreign leaders.  But their latest salvo was priceless.

It went down as follows.  About a week ago, Mikhail Volkhonsky, a Nashi activist from Yaroslavl contacted Ilya Yashin saying he was willing to give testimony about Nashi’s spy operation against the opposition. Volkhonsky claimed to have been spying on the Yaroslavl chapter of Kasparov’s outfit, United Civil Front, as well as gathered information on the opposition in neighboring cities.  According to Yashin, Volkhonsky claimed that he had a video showing “Yakemenko discussing the necessity of taking control of opposition organizations.”  Volkhonsky refused to give Yashin the video out of “fear” but offered to go in front of the media and “show and tell them everything.”  Thinking he had gold, Yashin called a press conference.

And gold it was.  Fool’s gold, that is. For, the press wasn’t treated a video showing Nashi’s behind the scenes scheming against the opposition.  Instead they got treated to clips showing “opposition” youth boozing after a protest, screwing a 14 year old girl, downing vodka, and snorting coke.  “Presently, the ranks of the opposition are characterized by drinking, hooliganism and the seduction of minors,” Volkhonsky explained to reporters. “I want to explain that everything you see here are the usual acts of the United Civil Front. The most marginal elements surround Kasparov and other our (sic) leaders. Here you have mass drunkenness, debauchery, lechery, and drugs.”  Yashin quickly took the microphone and called Volkhonsky’s act a “provocation.”

Yashin and Yabloko is calling Volkhonsky’s video nothing but kompromat.  True.  But it also shows how downright gulible the opposition is.  Some of the figures shown in the video aren’t oppositionists at all but resemble activists from pro-Kremlin groups.  For example, one activist featured among a group of drunken oppositionists looks like a known member of Molodaia gvardiia. One of the youths shown snorting cocaine is supposed to be Andrei Poliakov, a leader of Red Youth Vanguard, but looks nothing like him.  Here are the videos shown at the press conference:$2$0$109&page=1&

The prank was in response to the unmasking of Nashi spies in various oppositionist youth groups a few weeks ago. Reporters have been trying to get an official response from Nashi but to no avail.  In some quarters of Nashi world, the charges have simply been met with ridicule.  One Nashi blogger from Voronezh, MC_Masters, wrote that “now that all the Nashi spies have been driven out, no one comes to the [opposition’s] actions.”  In response to the claim that 7 of the 12 Yabloko Youth members in St. Petersburg were Nashi spies, he added “More than half of the Russian “opposition” are embedded Nashi commissars.  That’s just excellent.”

But clearly Nashi need not bother themselves with official responses. Not when their pranks speak volumes.